February 23-March 1: Including Elementary and the Oscars

by Fiona Rae / 14 February, 2013
Sherlock Holmes has never been so popular, Seth McFarlane brings his irreverent humour to the Academy Awards.


Elementary, Wednesday

Shakespeare in Italy (BBC Knowledge, Sky 074, 7.30pm). Architect, author, historian and film-maker Francesco da Mosto solves the riddle of Shakespeare’s missing years – he was in Italy, of course, where he was inspired to write so many of his masterpieces. Apparently, da Mosto is almost charming enough to get away with this assertion. Almost. He starts with the love stories, whereas the second episode is a look at Italy as a land of adventure and ambition. Actors Emma Thompson, Mark Rylance and Ciaran Hinds contribute.


Te Matatini 2013 Finals (Maori, 8.30am). The biannual kapa haka competition and festival has been under way in Rotorua for the past three days, and Maori Television has all-day coverage of the final day. Last year’s winners were the awesome Te Matarae i Orehu, who subsequently went to Germany to open the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Prime Presents: Aftermath: Where the Faults Lie (Prime, 8.45pm). A documentary that turns our attention back to Christchurch and the many challenges following the devastation of February 22, 2011. It’s a look at what it means to live in an active earthquake zone. -Scientists and geologists explain the network of faultlines below the Canterbury Plains; why they rupture; and what we can do to make buildings and ourselves safe when they do. There are five documentaries in the series, but Prime is not screening them together; the other episodes will explore heritage significance, social impact, business and financial effects and the Christchurch rebuild.

Monroe (Prime, 9.45pm). It was supposed to be the British answer to House, but lasted just two short seasons. James Nesbitt, looking a bit taller than when we last saw him in The Hobbit, returns as Gabriel Monroe, brain surgeon. He’s brilliant, dedicated, unpredictable, etc, and this season, single after his divorce. Cue new and pretty clinical nurse Lizzie (Tracy-Ann Oberman, most well-known for playing Chrissie Watts in EastEnders), while colleagues Shepherd (Tom Riley) and Bremner (Sarah Parish) juggle family life with hospital demands.


The 85th Annual Academy Awards (Sky Movies, Sky 020, 2.30pm). Is Seth McFarlane, creator of Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, the next Billy Crystal? The guy usually known for his irreverent humour hosts the Oscars for the first time; given that he stood in the wrong place at the Emmys, this does not augur well. Co-host Emma Stone should be able to find her mark, however. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln has 12 nominations, but Ben Affleck’s Argo has already been a favourite at all awards shows leading up to this one. The Hobbit has three technical nominations, and who knows? Maybe we’ll see Adele give another one of her hilarious gobsmacked cockney speeches for Skyfall. The show is only on Sky Movies, but as always there is red carpet coverage on E! (Sky 011). For something a bit more highbrow, BBC World News’ Talking Movies, hosted by Tim Brook, has an Oscar preview special on Sunday (Sky 093, 1.30pm).

Tony Robinson Downunder (Prime, 7.30pm). Time Team’s Tony advances to Australia, revealing some things that many of its inhabitants might rather forget. For example, Captain Cook wasn’t the first Englishman to set foot on the continent; it was a pirate 100 years earlier. Struth! Historians and writers such as Tim Flannery and Thomas Keneally appear.

Up All Night (Four, 8.30pm). Christina Applegate (Married … with Children) proves she’s still a brilliant comedienne in this new show that is co-executive produced by the legendary Lorne Michaels. Just to double the funny, Applegate is partnered with Arrested Development’s Will Arnett – they are a couple whose world does a 180 when a baby comes along. Applegate plays the producer of a talkshow fronted by Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids); after the baby, she goes back to work and Arnett stays at home.


Africa: Eye to Eye (TV1, 8.30pm). The seventh, and final, episode goes behind-the-scenes in the making of the series. The stunning camerawork didn’t just happen, and Eye to Eye explains the lengths to which the camera crew went in order to capture those extraordinary images. Africa has, of course, been filmed many times before, so the challenge was to find new places to shoot and animal behaviours never captured before. Not surprisingly, it stretched the team to the limit.


Treme, Wednesday

Fair Go (TV1, 7.30pm). Pippa Wetzell is the new Ali Mau as one of our most popular shows returns for its 150th season. Well, not quite, but the consumer affairs show has been going since 1977, which is a lot of rip-offs and a lot of setting things right.

Elementary (Prime, 8.30pm). Robert Downey jnr, Benedict Cumberbatch and now Jonny Lee Miller. Deductive reasoning would lead us to intuit that the character of Sherlock Holmes has never been more popular. We might also conclude that, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, TV audiences do enjoy brilliance. House was a homage to Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation, for example, and now Holmes gets the US TV treatment in Elementary. Where the BBC’s Sherlock, starring the terrifically compelling Cumberbatch, recreates the Conan Doyle stories, Elementary is a CBS crime procedural that plucks details at random from the canon. The most unusual is that Holmes’s sidekick is now a woman. By merely swapping one letter of the alphabet for another, John Watson has become Joan, and she is played by Lucy Liu. There is no Inspector Lestrade, Mrs Hudson or Mycroft, although the producers could well be keeping them up their sleeves. There will be a Moriarty, but he is not even mentioned until the 12th episode. Thankfully, Holmes is still British, but newly transplanted to New York, and in a nod to the original’s cocaine issues, just out of rehab. Watson is hired by Holmes’s father to be his “sober companion” and, of course, becomes involved in his work consulting with the NYPD. It all hinges on Holmes himself, however, and Miller is as entertaining as all get-out. He’s an ADHD Holmes to Cumberbatch’s Asperger’s one. He’s jumpy, eccentric, blunt to the point of rudeness. He claims he doesn’t do relationships, although later in the series Watson uncovers information about a certain Irene Adler. In an interview with Collider.com, Miller described the character as “quite raw, and his struggles are on the surface”. He’s also shirtless in our first encounter with him in the pilot. Hey, this is an American adaptation; they have to sex it up a bit. From then on, it’s into a labyrinthine murder case with a dizzying number of twists and turns. This being Holmes, however, it seems appropriate rather than implausible. Elementary has been a hit in the US, where most viewers haven’t seen Sherlock and therefore can’t unfavourably compare the two. Not surprisingly, British critics were less impressed with Elementary than their US counterparts, although one Guardian writer did have to concede, “It shouldn’t work, it really shouldn’t. But on the evidence of the first two shows, it is one of the best things on network TV.”

Crossfire Hurricane (Prime, 9.30pm). Prime starts rocking out again with story of the world’s oldest still-functioning rock’n’roll band. Film-maker Brett Morgen was able to interview the Stones, but not film them, so the audio is used over archive footage of significant events in the band’s history, up to 1981, anyway. To be sure, the band’s first 20 years really were a crossfire hurricane, from crazy rioting fans, stage invasions, drug arrests, the death of Brian Jones, Altamont and on to the stadium shows of the 70s. The film ends in 1981 with a massive live concert featuring the largest stage ever built for a band up until that time, “as if conceding”, noted Graham Reid in the Herald, “the following three decades became business as usual”.

Treme (SoHo, Sky 010, 9.30pm). David Simon’s riotous, flawed, charming, frustrating, life-affirming series about New Orleans returns for a third season. If you’ve seen The Wire, you’ll know that Simon is a patchwork-quilt kind of storyteller, rather than a knit-one-long-scarf guy (he has complained about critics basing their reviews on the first episode of a season, rather than the whole 13), so it pays to stick with it and enjoy the languorous plotlines and small victories and defeats that are interspersed with the electricity and joy of a New Orleans parade.


Vegas, Thursday

Vegas (Prime, 8.30pm). US telly loves its brilliant-loner-cowboy-saviour archetype, and here’s a show that does away with the metaphor in place of an actual cowboy. Dennis Quaid sets his putty face on “grimly determined” to play the sheriff of Las Vegas in 1960, back when the city was a strip in the desert next to the army’s atomic testing site. Vegas might be network tele-vision’s answer to Magic City or Mad Men, but it comes with an awfully high cliché quotient: Quaid’s character, Ralph Lamb, is an irascible ranch-owning widower who was an MP in the war. He is first seen herding cattle and then in short order gets into a fist fight; becomes sheriff; “rounds up” some bikers; solves a murder; and makes an enemy of the show’s other chief protagonist, mobster Vincent Savino (played by Michael Chiklis). There’s some nice supporting work from Carrie-Anne Moss, as the Assistant DA, and Jason O’Mara, as Lamb’s brother, but Vegas looks awfully like an ordinary crime procedural, despite the time and the setting.

The Café (Choice, 10.30pm). British comedy is split in two these days – the traditional (Watson & Oliver, Michael -McIntyre) and everything inspired by The Royle Family and The Office. The Café falls squarely into the latter camp: gentle comedy of the melancholic, wry-smile sort. It’s written by Ralf Little – who was in The Royle Family – and stage actress Michelle Terry, who is from Weston-super-Mare, where The Café is set. The title gives away the plot – Carol (Ellie Haddington) and her daughter Sarah (Terry) run a promenade cafe called Cyril’s. A series of regulars drift in and out, including Little’s Richard Dickens, a nurse in an old people’s home; Porsche-driving John (Daniel Ings); and airhead hairdresser Chloe (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). The Café is a place where nothing much happens, of course, which might simultaneously be its failing and its strength.


The Radio (TV3, 10.00pm). The cheap and endearing comedy series has an awesome guest star this week: Julia Deans.
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